An Answer to the Most-asked Question

Okay, I haven’t posted in almost two months.  So much for New Year’s resolutions.  But to make up for it I am going to answer (finally) the question I have been asked most over my many years of homeschool-mothering, a question which I used to ask myself, and it is this:  My daughter/son is a bookworm and reads voraciously and I don’t have time to read everything before I hand it to her/him so what do I do?

The best answer I have so far is to hand that child a stack of Landmark books and start shopping for more.  Or check your library and inter-library loan program to see if you can get them there.

So what’s so great about Landmark Books?  It’s a series of non-fiction books published by Random House in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Sure, there are other book sets published around then for the same audience, (older elementary through middle-school ages) but the thing that makes Landmark Books unique it that Random House hired “skilled wordsmiths, who could engage a general audience”  to write theirs, many of whom were experts in their field,  not just staff writers.

Here are a few examples of the kinds of authors Random House chose:

The Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler was written by William L. Shirer, the author of best-seller, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, considered the quintessential book on the subject and the recipient of the National Book Award for non-fiction.

The Story of Atomic Energy was written by Laura Fermi.  Name “Fermi” sound familiar?  She was the wife of  Enrico Fermi, known as  the “architect of the nuclear age” and the “architect of the atomic bomb”.  

The Wright Brothers ( which I reviewed earlier) was written by Quentin Reynolds, an associated editor for Collier’s Weekly, and then a  WWII correspondent who wrote numerous books about war-related themes.  (He wrote several of my favorite Landmark Books, including The Battle of Britain –perhaps my favorite Landmark Book of all, Custer’s Last Stand, The Life of St. Patrick, The FBI, and Winston Churchill (I’ve never seen this one; it’s rare and copies start at $50.)

The American Historical Association has an article on the Landmark Series that explains the  history of Landmark Books; check it out here:

I started collecting Landmark Books when I found out that our friends, Bill Potter and Wesley Strackbein, both noted historians, were avid collectors.  I knew if they collected them they had to be good.  So I got a few Landmarks off Ebay and read them.  Then a few more.  And then I took the plunge and won the bid on a lot of 60 from Ebay…

I think I have about 90 titles now and have read about half of them.  By the time I’ve read them all I’ll be a lot smarter.  In fact, I’m a lot smarter already.  A kid who had read all 185 of them (even if he only remembered half of it) would be pretty well-educated.

So if, like me, you want to invest in the education of children – whether you own or other peoples’ – you should collect Landmark Books too.   Much more sensible than collecting china teacups or owl figurines.

I hope, in time, to write reviews of all that I’ve read, but listing the titles I haven’t liked takes a lot less time than writing about all the ones I love so I’ll start with that.  So far, out of the 40+ Landmark books I’ve read there are only four that I wouldn’t recommend:

The First Men in the World, by Anne Terry White – I haven’t actually read all of this one, but I didn’t have to read much to see that it’s not about Adam and his sons. The author has a totally Darwinian, old-earth viewpoint.  Another title I’d steer clear of is her Prehistoric America.  In fact, you might want to steer clear of Anne Terry White’s work altogether.  She is definitely not writing from a Christian perspective and is a strong evolutionist, and very probably a Marxist. One intriguing fact about her is that FBI documents confirm that her husband was a spy for the USSR, which was where she was born. Her books are the only ones in this series I’ve encountered so far with a definite anti-Christian slant.

Joan of Arc, by Nancy Wilson Ross – There’s really nothing wrong with how this book is written, the problem is that because there isn’t much factual information about Joan of Arc, the book is largely based on the myths and legends  which have arisen about her in the five centuries since her lifetime.  And most of these fly in the face of what we know from scripture about how things work.

Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, by Slater Brown –  Again, the problem isn’t with the scholarship or the writing.  Ethan Allen, though a patriot, was a deist and his work, published in 1785 as Reason: the Only Oracle of Man,  was an unbridled attack against the Bible and Christianity.

So where do  you buy Landmark Books?  Well, keep your eyes open for them at garage sales and thrift stores, where you’ll find your best bargains.   The vast majority are out of print, but you can buy a few of them new from Amazon, in paperback, for $4-6 dollars.

Random House still prints seven of the original Landmarks books, published in the 1950’s and 1960’s:

The Wright Brothers, by Quentin Reynolds

The Landing of the Pilgrims, by James Daugherty

The American Revolution by Bruce Bliven, Jr.

Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia, by Margaret Cousins

The Story of Thomas Alva Edison

Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, by Elizabeth Payne

Gettysburg, by MacKinlay Kantor

(There are some recently-written ones that I haven’t checked into yet, and until I do, I can’t recommend them.)

Sterling Point has reprinted these:

The Barbary Pirates, by C. S. Forester (Creator of the award-winning Horatio Hornblower fiction series)

Alexander the Great, by John Gunther

Daniel Boone – The Opening of the Wilderness, by John Mason Brown

George Washington, Frontier Colonel, by Sterling North (the author of Rascal, another long-time favorite of mine)

Geronimo, by Ralph Moody (Creator of the Little Britches series)

Invasion – The story of D Day, by Bruce Bliven

John Paul Jones – Patriot Pirate, by Armstrong Sperry

The Swamp Fox of the Revolution, by Stewart H. Holbrook

Pearl Harbor Attack, by Edwin P. Hoyt

The Deadly Hunt- the Sinking of the Bismark, by William Shirer

(Sterling Point is also publishing some non-Landmark titles, mostly written in the 1950’s, which look good.  I’ve bought a couple but I haven’t read them yet.)

Beautiful Feet Books publishes:

The Magna Charta, by James Doughtery

The Vikings, by Elizabeth Janeway

Sonlight Curriculum publishes:

Leonardo da Vinci, by Emily Hahn

The Lewis and Clark Expedition, by Richard L. Neuberge

That makes 21 of the original 185 still in print.  Sad.  But the good news is that because of the series’ popularity and the vast numbers which were printed, they  are still easily available online and most are not expensive.  The Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler, in hardback, for example, starts at about $12 – close to my spending limit – but Thomas Jefferson, Father of Democracy, also hardback, starts at under $3.

You can find them, used, on Amazon or from Advanced Book Exchange, (  Check both sellers for the best price before you buy.  And I wouldn’t buy anything in “fair” or “acceptable” condition unless you want that title desperately.

Old Scrolls Blog has an alphabetical list of all the original Landmark titles: and you can find chronological lists too.  In fact, if you look around online, you’ll find that there are a lot of folks who love Landmark Books, and a lot of information about them is available.

I like the original paper-dust-jacketed hardbacks best, but since it’s really the content I value, I’m happy to get the later reprints with the image printed on the hard cover as well.  (It’s called the “pictorial board format.” ) Whatever format you get, they will be a good investment in the education of children you love.







On Princesses and Princess Culture

So we’re counting down the days to Christmas and all over the country parents are poised to bestow upon their young female offspring (and, horror of horrors, some, on their young male offspring) princess dresses, princess tiaras, princess-themed toys, dolls, sheets, books, movies, and anything else opportunistic retailers can stick a princess motif on.

But sadly, modern culture, mainly through the Disney princess movies, has completely lost sight of what it means to be a princess.  A real princess.

It was not as great as it sounds.  It’s true that if you were a daughter of one of the kings of days of yore you probably lived a life of relative luxury, had more to eat than others, and got to hob-nob with royalty.  But not always; for the four Romanov princesses being a princess meant getting executed along with their parents, but that was an extreme circumstance.

The Romanov princesses, whose tragic story fascinated my daughters when they were young. Do a google search on the name of their family’s personal physician and you’ll see why.

Throughout history,  kings and queens  lived out their reigns in varying circumstances of peace or upheaval, but royal princesses were  far too valuable a bargaining commodity to waste. Being murdered was much more likely to happen to young princes in line for the throne than to their sisters.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France

Mainly being a princess meant having to marry someone you didn’t know, someone you didn’t want to marry, as it did for Henry VIII’s younger sister, Mary, (the grandmother of Lady Jane Grey) who was forced to marry the king of France, more than 30 years her senior.  Even in recent times it has meant not being allowed to marry the man you loved, as was the case with the current Queen of England’s own late sister, Margaret.

Because if you were a princess you did not get to decide what you would do or not do.  You did not belong to yourself, you belonged to your country.  To the people who held the reins, anyway. You were merely a bargaining chip to be played however and whenever and wherever it suited those in power to use you.

Right now I’m reading a book to my grand-daughter Katharine which explains pretty well what it means to be, maybe not a historically-accurate princess, but a real princess.  A person who displays the character of a true princess.

It’s called The Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and you’re probably familiar with the Shirley Temple movie version or another movie version.  Admittedly, Shirley Temple is adorable, but she’s not an accurate depiction of the Sara Crewe of the book, nor is the movie script faithful to the book.  The book, as is almost always the case, is much better than the movie.

It’s a valuable book to read to the right child at the right time, as there are many moral tests and lessons in it. And somehow without the preachy Sunday-school quality of some of the Victorian children’s fiction, The Little Princess quite clearly contrasts right conduct with wrong conduct.

The main character is Sara, who pretends she is a princess.  And unlike most little girls today who pretend to be princesses, she knows what that means.  It means it’s her duty to consistently think of others before herself, and to do what is right and good, even when that’s hard to do.

Through the course of the story Sara endures flattery without becoming proud, and later, endures ill-treatment patiently and without returning evil for evil or insult for insult.

The villain of the story, Miss Minchin, who is the proprietress of the boarding school Sara attends, is selfish, petty, hateful and bad.

There is no moral confusion here.  Neither the heroine nor the villain is struggling to find herself, or lying awake nights to figure out what’s right for her, or deciding what is right according to how she feels.  What’s good is good and what’s bad is bad.  Just like that.

It’s not a perfect book; it has its flaws.  First, the author was not a Christian, and there is no Christian language in the book.  But the world Burnett grew up in over a hundred years ago was a world still influenced by Christian morality and worldview.  Telling the truth was important, as was being kind to those around you, and suffering bravely.  Back then one always knew what was the right thing to do, and the protagonist, Sara, tried consistently to do it.

The book mentions magic several times, sometimes when she really means “make believe” but especially near the end when several unexplained wonderful things start happening to Sara. But in this so-called magic, there’s no behavior that the Bible forbids like trying to contact departed souls, or foretelling of the future or anything like that.  In one place Sara pretends something might have done by a “good witch”.  (I changed that to “angel” when I read that part.)  And there’s mention of fairies.  Sara also makes wishes a lot. I change Sara’s wish-making into praying just as I change her talk of “magic” into “pretending”.  That’s the great thing about reading aloud- you can adapt the text however you want.

In addition to the other ways I tweaked it, I substituted words Katharine would understand for those she wouldn’t.  The book was written for children older than five, really.

So all that said, with all these flaws, is The Little Princess really worth reading?

Yes, I think so. And I know Katharine, who loved every minute of it, would say so.  It’s a good story, well-told, with an thoroughly admirable protagonist, and a wonderfully evil villain who gets what’s coming to her in the very satisfying ending.  More importantly, it’s a story which teaches many lessons on self-restraint and conduct important for little girls. From our reading of it together, I think Katharine, who likes to play princess as much as any five-year-old girl, is beginning to get a vision for the kind of selfless and noble conduct that befits a true princess.

And really, a true Christian.


Happy Thanksgiving



The Pilgrims watch the Mayflower head back to England













Just as the passing of Reformation Day doesn’t signal the end of our need to study the Reformation, we shouldn’t think that since Thanksgiving is past we don’t need to study the Puritans any more for the next 11 months. The way they read and applied scripture, and their belief in God‘s intimate involvement in their everyday lives, are things we’d do well to study.

They are truly a people for all seasons.

(Okay, you’re probably realizing that I have a thing for the Pilgrims.  I do. I love their courage, their resolve, their reverence for God…  I love to read their writings.  As the spiritual ancestors of all of us who are Americans, they are an important part of our history, and it’s amazing to think that they are in the great cloud of witnesses watching what has become of this country they invested in at so great a price.  What must they be thinking?)

If you want to read more about the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Pilgrims here are a few more books for young readers that I recommend:

Squanto – Friend of the Pilgrims, Clyde Robert Bulla, 1954

Stories of the Pilgrims, Margaret B. Pumphrey (There are several reprintings.)

If You Were at the First Thanksgiving, Anne Kamma, 2001 (Out of print and expensive for a Scholastic paperback! The price used copies are selling for makes me wonder if they’ll reprint it some day.  Maybe your public library has it.)

N. C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims, Robert D. Sans Souci, The illustrations are beautiful even if they are not absolutely authentic. You can see many of them  online.


The Landing of the Pilgrims

The Landing of the Pilgrims, James Dougherty, Random House, 1950

The Landing of the Pilgrims, James Dougherty, 1950

Why is it that older books, those written, say, in the 1950’s or earlier are often so much better than recent books?  I think one big reason is that those authors felt less pressure to be politically-correct.  They were free to write what really happened, even when it conflicted with what might seem nicer, more fair, more racially unbiased, or less likely to injure someone’s self-esteem.

Here’s an example from The Landing of the Pilgrims, a book written for an older audience than Three Young Pilgrims.  The author is explaining the deep reverence the Puritans had for God and the teasing they received from British sailors who delighted in their horror at the sailors’ cursing and blaspheming.  One young sailor, even more profane than the others, joked that he hoped to throw the bodies of half of them overboard (the usual method of burial at sea.)  Not long afterwards, the sailor himself sickened and died.  Dougherty writes, “…Both passengers and crew stood awed, believing that this was none other than the just hand of God upon his wickedness.”

The first-hand accounts of the Pilgrims describe this event, but I haven’t seen it in any recently-written Pilgrim books.  And I’m afraid it’s because many people are uncomfortable with the idea of a God who would do this.  Perhaps they feel it just wouldn’t be very nice of God to be so harsh.  I mean, God loves everybody unconditionally right?  (No, not right.)

Today, not even the LORD God Himself is free from being edited and recast by some modern Christian authors into a nice, tolerant, friendly god.  They want a tame god, a god who would never end a person’s life just because that person exercised his right to express his feelings and opinions.  Some might even come right out and say that they like this kind of god better than the God in the Bible. (One reviewer of The Shack said that.) Thankfully, despite popular criticism, God remains on His throne, and He is who He is.  But I’ve gotten side-tracked…

So… I love The Landing of the Pilgrims. I’ve not seen any recently-written book for young people which comes anywhere close to it, and strangely enough, given its politically-incorrect treatment of God, the Pilgrims and the Indians, it’s one of the Landmark books which is still in print.

It starts out by introducing William Brewster and Will Bradford, explains very clearly why they felt they had to leave England, and why they moved to and then left Holland.  And makes no bones about the fact that it was because of their faith and their desire to live according to the Holy Scriptures.

This book is in a different category than most other history books.  Drawn, as it is, from the three first-hand accounts left by the Pilgrims themselves, (Mourt’s Relation, Good Newes from New England and Of Plymouth Plantation) it’s a story of the Pilgrims’ covenantal relationship with  the LORD God, of whom they had a very good biblical understanding.

Author James Daugherty has woven the material from these three accounts into a lovely, easily- readable, reverent, well-written, and accurate story.

Ending with this quote from William Bradford:

“It is not with us as with other men whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause to wish (ourselves) at home again…”  this book deals with so many concepts which are essential to a Christian education that I would recommend that you read it with your children.   It’s a book to read deeply, thoughtfully.  It’s a book we all need to understand.


Three Young Pilgrims

By Cheryl Harness, 1992, Aladdin Picturebooks

This book was my first real introduction to the Pilgrims; it is the book that made them real for me. Sure, I had heard about them in elementary school – those men who wore those black hats and shoes with buckles on them, and who invited the Indians (we called them that back then) to Thanksgiving dinner and ate turkey and pumpkin pie or something like that… But this is the book that first brought them and their story to life for me.

Told as the story of the three Allerton children (the youngest of whom, Mary, was the last of the Pilgrims to die in 1699), what makes this book come alive is the illustrations. Looking through it to choose images to scan, I almost wanted to scan them all. Every page is wonderful!

First Cheryl Harness shows us the different decks of the Mayflower: what they looked like, and what each was used for. She shows us how crowded the Pilgrims were on board and how dark and dreary it was below decks. You can almost feel their sickness and discouragement, but also their tender care for one another.

Best of all are the maps. Why can’t all books have maps like these? How can anyone understand what is happening if they can’t see where it was happening? You will see where it all happened in this one.

And the illustrations show us, through group portraits, the Saints (essentially, the Puritans) and the Strangers (others who joined the Saints on the voyage to found a new colony, but who had different religious beliefs.) Every single person who came to Plymouth is depicted, and a little icon by their name shows which ones survived the first winter. It was only half of them.

And that is the illustration that helped me begin to understand – for the first time – what it cost those very real people to start the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The first colony founded by family groups, rather than by gentlemen adventurers. The first colony founded on the principle of freedom to obey and worship God according to the principles in the Bible, rather than according to the dictates of king or pope.

This lavishly-illustrated picture book is a perfect book for very young readers. But the reverence with which the author tells this story of the Pilgrims gives it the power to move adult hearts also.

I highly recommend it for all ages.


November 9, 1620 – The Pilgrims sight land

On this day, 397 years ago, the passengers on the Mayflower sighted land at Cape Cod.  After 66 days at sea they had been scanning the horizon eagerly for days, hoping for a glimpse of land.

Then, through the mist… there it was!  This land which would be their new home.  Rocky, windswept shore and then forest -that’s all there was. It was cold.  That cold, raw wind blowing off the ocean is bone-chilling.  Colder than anything they’d experienced in England or Holland. November was a hard time to begin life in a new country.

I’ve been to Plymouth Rock.  I was eager to see the spot – the very spot! – where they came ashore, imagining that my being right there would give me some feeling of spiritual connection to the past.  That perhaps standing where their very feet had stood would allow me to feel some kind of connection to their human experience.  Or something.

The ghastly Grecian-Temple-looking structure they have built over the Rock could hardly be less appropriate.  An architectural style perfectly antithetical to all that that the Rock and those who stepped ashore onto it symbolized.  Sigh.

I had the same disappointing failure to connect with the past at Paul Revere’s house (tourists everywhere) and at the Alamo (parking meters right in front.)  Try as I might, being in those places couldn’t transport me back to the past the way I had hoped it would.

To my mind, the best way to forge a connection with the past – to almost feel you were there – is through books.  A well-written account can help you imagine just how it felt, sounded, smelled, to be there.  I love that.  Best of all is if it’s a first-hand account, the actual words of those who lived it.

We have three first-hand accounts from the people we call the Pilgrims.  They are treasures.  All three are wonderful vehicles for traveling back to the past, and you can find them all online for free, though they would be worth reading if they cost a fortune.

My favorite is Mourt’s Relation. Written, historians think, by Edward Winslow and William Bradford, it covers the events of their first year establishing the new colony.  It’s short and easy to read, and reading the actual words of someone who was there builds you a connection to the past like nothing else.

Of this day Mourt’s Relations says,

“…at length, by God’s providence, upon the ninth of November following, by break of the day we espied land which we deemed to be Cape Cod, and so afterward it proved.  And the appearance of it much comforted us, especially seeing so goodly a land, and wooded to the brink of the sea.  It caused us to rejoice together, and praise God that had given us once again to see land.”

Good Newes from New England, by Edward Winslow, was published in 1624.  It’s a similar account to Mourt’s Relation, but focuses more on their relations with the Indians.

Of Plymouth Plantation was written by William Bradford, the leader of the Plymouth colony, between 1630 and 1651. He starts by describing the years in Holland before they made the Atlantic crossing in the Mayflower and goes on to tell the whole story of the first years, concluding with a list, written in 1651, of all the passengers on the Mayflower and what happened to them in the intervening years.

Read these accounts and learn from our Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers what they understood about God and their relationship with Him.  Observe their thankfulness to God for His providence and lovingkindness to them even in the first year when half of them died.

We need faith and vision and purpose like theirs.  You must read these to your children so they can begin to understand what this country was once all about, and to give them a vision for making it that way once again.



A Free Reformation Resource for the Littles in your Life

You could easily spend months, years, studying the Reformation, and there are lots of great resources I didn’t even mention yet. Like these for older readers: D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, a hefty three-volume set available from Sprinkle Publications– weighty tomes, for sure, but not in the least tedious or hard to read.  And T.M. Lindsay’s modest-sized paperback, The Reformation – A Handbook, a nice, succinct overview.

There are so many wonderful books about the Reformation that it’s hard to stop raving about them just because November is upon us.  But… I have a stack of great books for November -the month for reading about Thanksgiving and the Mayflower and the Pilgrims – which I can’t wait to share.  .

However, this free little gem for the younger set is much too fun (and educational!) to leave for next year.


Timeline of the Reformation

A few years ago our family’s passion for stories from the long war against the suppression of biblical truth, our love of maps, and our passion for layout and graphic design coalesced into this beautiful timeline of the Reformation. (If you’re thinking you detect overtones of maternal pride here, you’re right.)

The text explains the contributions of Martin Luther in Germany, John Calvin in Switzerland, Henry VIII in England (one can hardly call his self-motivated rejection of Roman Catholic Church authority in England a contribution, but it did work for good,) John Knox in Scotland, Gaspard de Coligny in France, William the Silent in the Low Countries, and John Smith in the New World.

The map and most of all, the timeline of events itself, are hugely helpful in understanding the succession and interplay of events in this most important era of history.   If you haven’t already gotten around to making your own timeline, you’d better order this one so you’ll have it in time for the 500th anniversary!

Buy Your Own Timeline of the Reformation Here!

Often referred to as “the most important event in history”, the Protestant Reformation was actually a sequence of amazing events which exploded across Europe in the 16th century and changed history forever. This illustrated timeline, designed and created by the Botkin family, introduces key Reformers, maps out strategic locations, and orders the sequence of Providential historical events, chronologically. Printed in full color on heavy paper – 39″ x 14″


Martin Luther: A Man who Changed the World

Paul L. Maier, Concordia Publishing House, 2004

The reading level of this very readable biography of Luther is a couple steps up from the Strackbein girls’ Katharine Von Bora, going into more detail on Roman Church error, the veneration of relics, the sale of indulgences, and the publication of Luther’s 95 Theses. And the cast of characters is larger, including his mentor, von Staupitz, his prince, Frederick the Wise, the slimy indulgence-peddling Tetzel, Cardinal Cajetan, Charles V. and all the rest.

The author could have made Luther’s kidnapping more exciting, I thought; after Luther’s trial at Worms, which left him branded as an outlaw, he was riding through the forest in the dead of night trying to get home alive, when suddenly from the shadows burst a band of horsemen who captured Luther and took him…no one knew where! All of Germany was asking whether Martin Luther was dead or alive, and it was months before either his friends or his enemies knew. (You’ll find out right away, though.)

The author was right, though, to focus more on what Luther did during his captivity than on his kidnapping, though it may not seem as exciting at first. Because what Luther did – and it changed history – was to translate the New Testament from Latin into German, the tongue of the common people, so that for the first time ordinary German people could read it for themselves. And German-speaking people are still reading the Luther translation today.

Luther’s marriage, teaching, and the spread of the Reformation into other countries are touched on briefly in the remainder of this beautifully-illustrated book. It’s a very nice introduction to the Reformation for a more mature audience than Katharine Von Bora.